Should You Represent Yourself in a Personal Injury Case?
When you’re suffering from an injury that was caused by someone else, you may be under a great deal of pressure. When you get in a car accident or motorcycle accident, you have to manage your medical bills and maintain your income as you recover. Whether or not your injury resulted in permanent damage, you want compensation, and you need it quickly. Representing yourself in a personal injury case can be tempting. It can save you money on attorney fees. But it involves a great deal of time, work and legal knowledge. You can end up in a worse situation if you defend yourself and things don’t go your way.
You Have the Right to Represent Yourself
Individuals have the right to represent themselves when it comes to personal injury claims. Appearing on your own behalf, or pro se, requires you to prepare every aspect of your claim. You’ll file the lawsuit, provide the necessary evidence and potentially provide a deposition. Many claims are settled out of court, which can save you time and money. However, you need to make sure that you protect your rights.
When Should You Represent Yourself in Court?
If you’re looking to maximize your settlement and safeguard your rights, it’s best to work with an attorney. If you have no choice but to represent yourself, you should only do so in the following cases:
• Your injuries are not serious – If your injuries are minor and your medical costs aren’t extravagant, the defendant may want to settle quickly and easily, offering you adequate compensation without a fight. However, your injuries could be more significant than you thought. Spine, neck and head injuries can have a domino effect, causing other health problems down the road. Don’t sign away your rights without fully investigating them.
• It was the other party’s fault – If the defendant is clearly responsible for the accident, you may be able to prove fault and get a reasonable settlement. However, even if the fault is clear to you, it may not be evident to others. Unless the other party has legally claimed liability, the defense may bring up details that you may not have considered, indicating that you might have some responsibility for the injury.
• You’re filing in small claims court – Small claims court is more informal than regular court. You may be comfortable representing yourself there. If you represent yourself in a regular trial, however, you can make procedural mistakes that may hurt your case.
The Risks of Representing Yourself in a Personal Injury Claim
Representing yourself comes with several risks. You may subject yourself to unnecessary stress, end up with a lower settlement than you deserve or end up paying for damages yourself.
A great deal goes into the legalities surrounding a personal injury case. If you represent yourself, you need to learn about these processes so that you go about them correctly. You have to file with the appropriate clerk and pay the required fees. You will also need to collect and present evidence to support your case.
The complexities of these processes are enough to dissuade many people from attempting them. If you’re focusing on healing after an accident, you don’t need to suffer the hassle of managing a lawsuit from start to finish. It can be difficult to determine the correct procedures to follow. An attorney will handle all of these administrative and clerical tasks, freeing you up to concentrate on your recovery.
Negotiating a Settlement
When you hear that the majority of personal injury claims are settled out of court, you may think, “Perfect. I can handle a settlement as long as I don’t have to deal with a trial.” However, representing yourself could leave you with less compensation than you deserve.
Some of the damages that are paid out in a settlement include:
• Existing and future medical bills – While existing medical bills are easy to add up from the invoices, future medical bills are harder to calculate. You don’t want to be left without enough money to cover the costs of necessary treatment. A personal injury lawyer understands how to secure the amount that’s right for you.
• Lost income – If you are unable to return to work, you may be eligible to collect those lost wages. However, some factors, such as self-employment or an imminent promotion, might impact the amount that you’re due. An attorney can present the facts to help you achieve the maximum settlement.
• Pain and suffering – These damages are more difficult to calculate because they don’t come with an invoice. This is often based on the calculable damages but can be influenced by the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries as well as a mediator, judge or jury’s attitudes toward the plaintiff.
The defendant is likely to offer an amount that may sound significant to the plaintiff. But it’s often the bare minimum. If you’re representing yourself, you may not consider some of the claims that could increase your settlement.
For example, you can likely get more money if you’ll have an obvious scar on your face from a motorcycle accident rather than if you obtained a bump on the back of the head. Getting treatment for post-accident anxiety or PTSD demonstrates that you have pain and suffering as well as quantifiable medical bills.
You’re likely to get low-balled by the defendant or insurance company. Negotiating is almost always necessary to receive the compensation that you deserve. A personal injury attorney will work with you and the other party to come up with a fair settlement.
Going to Trial
Should you accept a settlement or go to trial? Taking a case to trial may seem daunting, and you might wonder whether it’s necessary. It’s not easy to make that decision on your own. A lawyer can give you advice and offer realistic expectations for the path that you choose.
Depending on the outcomes of the trial, you could receive much more compensation than a settlement would afford you. Plus, you would be forcing the defendant to accept fault, which may be important to you if you have sustained a serious injury or are concerned about other people sustaining a similar injury.
However, juries are unpredictable. In a trial, you have the burden of proof. If you can’t show beyond a reasonable doubt that your injuries are due to another party’s negligence, you may not win the case.
You’ll also need to be familiar with legal procedures and actions. You must know what type of evidence is supported and what is prohibited. Going to trial without a lawyer is risky. Moreover, litigation may be costly and lengthy. Working with an attorney will give you the facts that you need to decide whether to settle or take the claim to trial.
The Benefits of Hiring an Attorney
Shelling out an attorney’s fee can be daunting. But if you expend time, money and effort representing yourself, you could end up losing your case, coming away with no compensation or even being required to accept liability and pay damages yourself.
The best way to navigate a personal injury case is with a California PI attorney that only charges a fee if you win. That means that you can pursue your claim without any risk.
A lawyer will:
• Maximize your payout
• Mange the hassle of legal paperwork and filing requirements
• Take care of all negotiations
• Advise you on collecting and saving compelling evidence
• Analyze and refute the defendant’s evidence
• Guide you toward taking appropriate action for your situation
• Remain objective and make a strong case for you
• Help you access resources, such as medical care and witnesses
• Maintain a realistic and speedy timeline
• Ensure that you are not taken advantage of
Securing legal representation also helps your case be taken seriously. Hiring an attorney right away will help you make the best decisions.
Immediately after an accident, working with a legal professional will help you determine whether to file an insurance claim or initiate a lawsuit. This is likely a new situation for you. However, insurance companies have to deal with car accident claims frequently. No matter how legitimate your claim is, an experienced defendant is likely to find a loophole if you defend yourself.